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Why does Google get social content but not social networks?

It’s a running joke in the digital media space that Google+ is a ghost town. Not entirely accurate as companies such as Ford believe in the space and prominent bloggers still actively participate there, but it certainly didn’t meet the promise that many hoped for – to finally bring a direct competitor (with deep pockets) to Facebook. 50mm active users and 90mm registered users is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s certainly not where the Internet giant was hoping to be. This isn’t the first time Google’s tried to venture into social networks, there were the other Internet services, Buzz and Wave, which became fodder for Internet jokes before being shut down.

On the flip side, Google’s content creation engine consistently churns out compelling content that is shared far and wide and highly praised: think Google Doodles; April Fools jokes; and random Easter Eggs in products (e.g. Map Directions). They excel at it and appear to have a lot of fun doing it. So it should be only natural that if they are that good at creating content that people want to share they should understand how to build products that facilitate that sharing. Right?

Well, understanding the psychology of human sharing and interaction is different from creating cool things that people like to geek out to. Google, at its core, is full of incredibly smart engineers who look at problems logically and have a deep understanding of how the Internet works, how to create workflows, and how their own products can all be tied in together. These are the folks who brought us Gmail that revolutionized email, search which is the backbone of how people find information online, etc. etc.

But these products are all fundamentally purpose built, not discovery and interaction built.

I go to Gmail to read and respond to email. I use the search engine to find things I’m looking for, not to browse the web. I use Maps to get directions and find things. You get the picture. YouTube is different, but it wasn’t built in house, it was acquired after it was already successful and hasn’t really expanded much past it’s original purpose – to watch videos online.

The sticky social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr et al. are all about frictionless creation and sharing which is where the content that Google creates naturally spreads. Google+ is amazingly built. It has so many features that the other networks lack it should be a natural place to migrate our social interactions to. Except, all those features that make sense logically probably confuse the average user. Geeks get it, but geeks already have channels where their buddies are to share on. Circles are actually a really great idea, but the average person looks at that and says, whoa, way too much work! I’d hazard a guess that 9 out of 10 people on Facebook and Twitter haven’t set up lists either (the simplest versions of Circles). Ripples? What are those? Hangouts, which should have been the killer feature weren’t promoted properly (think about how Apple promoted Facetime for how it should have been done), and YouTube integration was an after-thought instead of a must have from day one. I could go on and on but you get the picture. When Google builds social networks they build them through their own incredibly logical lens instead of an average consumer lens.

So, what can they do? I’d suggest taking a look at why their content is so successful and how it spreads (psst, they have Google Analytics that recently added social networks tracking they could take a peek at for some insights). I’d also do a deep analysis of what their competitors are doing from a marketing lens, not a development one. Make it easy to import friends from other networks, make setting up a profile a snap, make it cool (and easy) to be there. Then, in the immortal words of start-ups: pivot…. Hell, even Zuckerberg pivoted by opening The Facebook to non-college kids.

In the meantime, keep the content coming, it’s really good!

Image credit: [Jennifer Horn @ Google]

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The Canadian Digital Living Room research

Do you have kids? Are you a 5-screen household? If so, you aren’t alone. That’s the number of screens (TV, mobile, tablet) that the majority of Canadian families with kids have according to MediaCom research. It’s a far cry from the lone TV in the living room most Boomers & Gen-Xers grew up with.

I recently attended a conference that presented a ton of great stats from Microsoft Advertising and Rogers Connect based on research they conducted in November – December 2011 of Canadian parents with kids under 18.

For anyone in marketing or advertising that is looking to market to the next generation of families, multi-screen programs are an absolute must. Gone are the days of focusing on one device or medium. Your content and campaigns must be adaptable to various mediums.

Some key stats that were revealed include:

Canadian adults consume 190 hours of media per month

Which devices are they consuming it on?

-       99% TV

-       53% laptop

-       48% Gaming system

-       30% mobile device

-       6% tablets

88% of families use their TV simultaneously with another device so the opportunities for seamless-content and advertising is abundant to create emotional connections through multiple devices and cater to the screen they are looking at.

As well there is a slight difference between how parents with younger children (Digital Natives: 0-10yrs) vs. parents with older children (Digital Adopters: 11-18yrs) view the role of tech in their family dynamics. Digital Adopters tend to become educated about tech by their children; they are influenced on purchase decisions, are educated about new technology and are using it more frequently to communicate with their children, even when they are in the same house together. The Digital Adopter families spend their time together in the living room primarily consuming media that breaks down as follows (82% TV shows; 81% movies; 37% playing video games; 10% using social networks). Integrating campaigns around these various activities makes perfect sense and can serve as a media multiplier with multiple touch points to reach the audience with functional and emotional content.

While the research didn’t focus on the specific types of content or brands that resonated with the various groups, it is valuable to get a baseline understanding of the growth and spread of platforms that is now becoming part of the fabric of how families interact in their daily lives. I can see this playing out with my own family and how, as my children grow they start to use things such as my tablet while we watch TV and I’m on my smartphone. This will only continue to grow and advertisers and content creators should pay attention.

Thanks to Microsoft Canada & High Road Communications for the media pass; it was a highly informative day for someone who lives and works in the digital space.

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Working in the Cloud!

I know I’ve been a bit cagey about what I’ve been up to the last two months, but the time has come to share the great news!

I’m joining Cloud AdAgents as Managing Director, effective today. I’m thrilled to be running the Toronto shop, working with some fantastic clients, and a stellar bunch of people as we grow the business and continue to refine our new agency model.

So what is Cloud? We are what the name suggests, an agency that taps into the best and brightest talent from anywhere in the world. We believe that you don’t need to be tied to a desk to do your best work. You don’t need to work in a large formalized structure. Sometimes that works, but it doesn’t for everyone – either employee or client.

We believe in the power of ideas; ideas that can come from anywhere. Quite literally, the World Is Our Office ™. Clients don’t need to be limited to getting great work from a single geographic location, or a single type of cultural experience. We believe in empowering entrepreneurs and freelancers and enabling them to work on large client business as part of a larger team. We believe in giving back to the community, and are really looking forward to what we can all achieve together in the coming years.

We have a foundation in digital and social media, but we embrace integration with all mediums, as they make sense strategically. We believe relationships matter: with our clients and with our partners. We are headquartered out of the espresso bar on Queen West where we have a collaboration space (and amazing coffee & snacks), but most of the time you’ll find us using the digital tools to get things done. Skype. Email. SMS. WebEx.

I’m really excited about being a part of this new agency model and seeing where it takes us. It’s daring, it’s challenging, and it is in the cloud.

And … I like challenging the status quo.

Come by, say hi and have an espresso (just ping me first because I may be any number of places!) :)

You can also find us on Twitter: @CloudAdAgents and Facebook: Espresso Bar / Agency and be sure to check in on Foursquare when you drop by, we’ve got a new deal at the Espresso Bar each week!

ps – look for our new website in the coming weeks!

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Should you play it safe with location-based social networks?

[cross-posted from Teehan+Lax]

Last week Forrester released a report advising most marketers wait to use location-based social networks (LBSN) as only 4% of the US population is currently using platforms such as Foursquare (the current market leader), and that the networks skew heavily male. They advise that brands that target young males experiment with the services and other brands adopt a “wait and see” approach.

I couldn’t disagree more. Here are my 5 reasons why it’s smart to start experimenting now.

1. First Movers.

There’s something to be said for getting a head start on your competition in the digital space. Brands like Starbucks, Dell, Pepsi, and Nike have all taken advantage of the emerging channels and reaped the rewards of building a strong early foundation with consumers.

While you should not rush into a new tool without understanding your strategic goals and how it integrates with your business objectives, experimenting with emerging technologies that are opt-in and potentially have a direct customer impact is smart.

When Facebook opened their gates to the general population in 2006 they had a small user base of university students. Four years later they are a behemoth. Twitter adoption rates have been increasing exponentially year over year since their launch in 2007 and the tool is now considered a “must use” for social business. Considering Foursquare launched about a year ago, can we expect to see the same type of growth curve as the early adopters begin to influence the early majority? (see “Crossing the Chasm” adoption curve)

2. Google. Facebook. Oh My.

Location-based services are not limited to the current apps we have been hearing about. Facebook has expressed they will add a location-based offering soon, Twitter has added “Tweet with your location” to their service, and the biggest news is that Google is adding a Places API to their eco-system, as well as adding LB data extensions to their mobile advertising product.

LBSN will become mainstream sooner rather than later, and it will be the big players, not the niche networks that will drive the adoption. Testing and learning now, before it becomes ubiquitous should be something on every marketers radar.

3. Data and utility.

There is an enormous amount of insightful and actionable data that can be gleaned about your customers and prospects from mobile & LBSNs. Eventually this data could be used to inform inventory control, staffing levels, consumer tastes and trends, etc. The data can also be used in loyalty programs, to identify influencers, test new products, and as real-time service focus groups.

Companies already testing the waters include:

Nike with True City; Starbucks with their Foursquare offers; The Pepsi mobile branded app; and the City of Chicago with their Tourism campaign.

4. Sales, Coupons, Offers, and more.

Part of the Forrester analysis identified that mobile couponing is widely successful with the users currently using the services, which is interesting as the base is primarily young males, not the average coupon-consuming demographic. Gone are the days of clipping coupons in the Sunday paper, now you can serve relevant offers and drive foot traffic and purchase directly to a mobile device. These offers are opt-in, and contextually relevant, not SMS spam. Testing offers, tips, and messaging via mobile should be on every retailers plan for the next year.

Of course one size doesn’t fit all and ensuring that your product or service fits within the make-up of the demographic, depending on service (existing or branded), is a must.

5. Mobile usage.

Of course mobile, and specifically smartphone, usage is soaring year over year. Ignoring mobile at this point is like ignoring the Internet in 2002 because broadband wasn’t prevalent yet.

Bottom line for marketers:

Experiment. See what fits, what your customers are looking for, and where you can add value. Don’t wait until it becomes mainstream, because that will be sooner than you think and you’ll be playing catch-up.

[photo credit: john weiss via Flickr]

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Setting the stage for Old Spice to own the Internet

[Cross-posted from Teehan+Lax]

A lot of ink has already been written about why Old Spice owned the Internet last week, and I don’t want to rehash the various aspects that RWW has covered, and Dave Stubbs has mentioned, among others, but what I feel is missing from the conversation is how it all started. My friend Leigh Himel deconstructed what the brief could have looked like, and I think it’s worth expanding on to describe how the campaign set the foundation for success.

It all started with the insight and a deep understanding of the market and the consumer.

The objective, as Leigh rightly points out, was to re-position and re-invigorate the brand.  To do this the team needed to understand the competitive landscape, the perspective consumers had of the brand, and the territory they had to play in. The market was saturated with female unfriendly AXE advertising, and as women are the primary consumers for male scent gifts, turning that into an advantage would have been mandatory for Old Spice.

With that as the starting point the Old Spice team (with a receptive client) decided to do the obvious: appeal to women without alienating men.

Old Spice cast the perfect actor for the new positioning. A former NFL player, a nice guy, and someone who wasn’t so perfect that men would feel threatened. Genius casting. Based on, I imagine, a perfect casting brief.

The next step was to create a seriously funny commercial that turned all the cliche’s of advertising and film on their heads. “Look at your man, now back at me”. “It’s now diamonds”. “I’m on a horse”. They made a commercial that was frankly better than 90% of the TV shows it appeared alongside. I first heard of it because my partner was watching TV and told me I had to see it. So what did I do? I went to YouTube and there it was. Word of mouth at it’s finest, but it would have been dead in the water if the team hadn’t thought to seed it online first.

They let that roll and roll it did. Everyone who saw the commercial started sharing it, and a character was born.

Now what to do with the follow up? The character was a success both online and offline and while they could continue to let it ride as a TV spot, the proof was there that they could take advantage of how much the spot resonated with the folks online.

The plan was to create a new TV spot, let that simmer for a bit and then pounce. The social media marketers did their homework and decided what the right outlets were to start spreading the character. The fact they took on 4Chan and won speaks volumes about how integrated and on the ball they were. While everyone talks about how they took over Twitter in a day, they really started seeding the campaign before that. They laid the groundwork. And it paid off. Big time.

It came on my radar with @jakrose tweeting that he’d received a video reply early Tuesday morning. “Fry it up and eat it down JakRose. Fry it up and eat it down.” The network effect took over and for the next two days it was all I cared about that was happening online. The social team did a brilliant job monitoring responses and working with the creatives to write compelling copy. They didn’t just target celebrities and “influencers” but responded to comments, Diggs, tweets and blog posts that they felt fit with the character as a whole. They were obviously fully immersed in the language and cadence of the social web because their video responses contained references only a geek would love (or get). They respected all the unwritten rules of the culture and tailored their responses to match the brand, and the mediums they were using.

They embraced the mash-ups and promoted them. They let the community roll with it. They poked fun at themselves (Old Spice responding to @isiahmustafa) And they set a time limit. Any longer than 2 days and it would have become tired. Any shorter and it would have been disappointing. The mash-ups continue to roll in, with the most recent being Mel Gibson calling the Old Spice Guy.

It was brilliance that came from the initial insights and work they did a couple of years ago. And deep understanding of how the social web works.

The challenge will be what they do next and if it moves the needle at the top of the purchase funnel (awareness & consideration). But I have faith, and am looking forward to every moment of it!

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